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Idiom Strong

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Residents of Barrett, Pennsylvania, sold t-shirts to help local police defray costs associated with a recent manhunt.

Back in September, Barrett Township, in Pennsylvania, was the center of a  manhunt for an armed fugitive and adopted the motto “Barrett Proud.” When the suspect was caught, in October, the entire region appropriated it and dubbed itself “Pocono Proud.

This week The New York Times reported that after an 11-year-old Indiana boy, Calvin Clark, suffered a severe head injury in a foo…

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An Angel for the Humanities

Last week in this space I regretted the lack of an acronym identifying the fields of the humanities, an acronym that would be a counterpart to the scientists’ successful STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. A hundred readers joined in the discussion, and one, I think, came up with the answer to our prayers: RAPHAEL.

It would signify:

R – Religion
A – Art
P – Philosophy
H – History
A – Aesthetics
E – English
L -Languages

Admittedly, the acronym isn’t perfect.

—If Art, why not Music and Th…

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Disputing Linguistic Myths

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I remarked in a recent post that the reason I spend time disputing silly things people say about English grammar is that I take seriously my job description as a professor. But I’ve actually been working to rebut silly claims about language (not just English) since I was an undergraduate.

In the 1956 British edition of The Guinness Book of Records, which I browsed for hours when I was a boy, the section on language (Page 118) has an entry headed MOST PRIMITIVE LANGUAGE. The rosette for “probabl…

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Noping Out

keep-calm-and-nope“I love how that goat just nopes out of that situation.” And I love the ring of a newly hatched bit of slang that hasn’t even received its Urban Dictionary definition yet. Here, at its inception, nopes out doesn’t yet sound juvenile to me, or evasive, or overused, or imprecise; it hasn’t yet earned any of the pejoratives that purists may hurl its way if and when it becomes as widespread in the language as amazeballs or totes. Rather, it describes a quick series of actions that seem to have been …

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On Subtitles

A few days ago I happened upon a brief essay by Borges called “On Dubbing,” in which he lambasts the then-recent Hollywood invention (the essay was written in 1945) of  devising “monsters which combine the illustrious features of Greta Garbo with the voice of Aldonza Lorenzo.” Borges calls the mechanism “a malignant artifice” (un maligno artificio). He asks, sarcastically, “How can we fail to profess our admiration for this painful prodigy, for these ingenious phono-visual anomalies?”

I, too, di…

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Passivity and Other Afflictions

call-to-actionLast week, I suggested that we got ourselves into trouble trying to distinguish between disinterest and uninterest because multiple meanings of the word interest put both prefixes at a disadvantage when it comes to drawing bright, clear lines of meaning. Now I’ll wade into muddier waters. Much ink has been spilt over the use or abuse of the passive voice in English. I’d like to propose two notions that, held in balance, might decrease our level of apoplexy:

  1. The term passive voice is a term of a…
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Pediaphilia

Narcissus2

Caravaggio’s “Narcissus.” The encyclopedia made us look outward.

No, it’s not what you think. It’s the creeping insistence that everything needs its own encyclopedia.

Older readers of Lingua Franca will remember the era of multivolume encyclopedias. Some of you may have grown up with classy sets of Britannicas. Others may have had their parents acquire a humbler set of Funk & Wagnalls, one volume at a time, at the grocery store, as mine did. The books were offered week by week, letter by letter,…

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You Had Meme

In 1996, a movie called Jerry Maguire, written by Cameron Crowe, contained a certain scene:

 

 

Then this happened.

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As the chart suggests, things started out kind of slow.

Pentagon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then they picked up, with graphics galore.

BigHead-Joes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU-HAD-ME-AT-BACON-pink-500x500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was rhyme and variation.

You had me at Halo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jello2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow

 

 

 

 

Tweets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on to other species…

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… and other langu…

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Humanities Need a STEM

As long as I can remember, the humanities have felt neglected at our colleges and universities—underfunded, underenrolled, underappreciated by those who want a “practical” education.

Recently the sciences have felt neglected too, at least in the matter of enrollment. We have too few young people aiming for careers in science, they say. So, unlike the humanists, they did something practical about it. They created an acronym: STEM. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It…

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The Decline of Grammar Education

exam-f-grade-480x250_1024Mention an interest in grammar education to most people and they will assume you are concerned about incorrect use of English. What concerns me, by contrast, is the incompetence of those who pontificate about it and set quizzes on it. Google fetches more than 300,000 hits for the term "grammar quiz"; yet if quizzes on chemistry were as uninformed as those on grammar, they would ask silly questions on peripheral topics (“Who is the Bunsen burner named after?”), and would make no reference to the